As anyone who dreams of Elle Decor on an IKEA budget knows, filling a space with art isn’t exactly easy on the wallet. So when I saw how much of the decor at our new Fifth Avenue store was D.I.Y. (and good D.I.Y. at that), I harassed our store decorator Ruth for her tricks of the trade (then proceeded to spill her secrets on our blog…).
Ruth’s philosophy, it turns out, is more Marcel Duchamp than arts and crafts (sorry, put the pipe cleaners away)
—repurposing everyday objects as works of art. Here’s her process in a nutshell…
Step one: Scour flea markets, vintage stores, eBay, your parents’ attic, etc., for everyday objects that look like
they could moonlight as works of art.
How can you tell? Look for “pieces with sculptural silhouettes, eye-catching textures and/or colors with a story behind them,” says Ruth. Among her finds for Fifth Avenue were vintage chalkboards, jettisoned letterpress letters and industrial gears, an old-school glass beaker set and stray pieces of driftwood—even a stack of National Geographics from 1959 made the cut, thanks to those iconic yellow spines.
Step two: It’s all about presentation—if you treat it like art, it’ll look like art
(it’s The Secret meets Architectural Digest, if you will).
A good rule of thumb is that everything looks better in a frame—think old letters, your childhood stamp collection—or under a bell jar. Alternatively, try arranging found objects of different shapes and sizes into little still lifes, like Ruth did with an odd assortment of wooden finials (ornamental accents you might find at the top of a bedpost). And always go for the unexpected. Case in point: The Fifth Avenue store displays paintings facing the wall because Ruth fell in love with the color and patina of the backs of the frames. And we’ve already shown you her huge textural mural of vintage gloves.
Basically, it’s all about seeing things with a new eye. And if you’re like me and would like that eye to belong to Ruth, check out the
Fifth Avenue store for some more inspiration.
(post by Alexandra Andrews)
Receiving almost as much attention as the clothes, the art at the gallery-esque Fifth Avenue store has a presence that’s undeniable. Ruth, our prop and window dresser extraordinaire, reveals the artists and just how many gloves there are. “The wall of art…is a mix of vintage and new, known artists from galleries and unknown artists unearthed in antique stores and flea markets.”
Women’s Cashwrap (clockwise from left)
- “This painting was bought in an antique store [artist unknown]. I’m crazy about this piece. It reminds me of an architectural floor plan.”
- Photograph by Patricia McDonough.
- Abstract painting on paper by Deborah Dancy. “We love this artist so much, we bought about a dozen pieces of her work.”
- Photograph of girl in car by Cig Harvey.
“This is my favorite piece in the whole store. It grabs your attention—it’s mysterious and arresting.”
- Red drawing of nude by Jean Negulesco.
- Vintage 1950s fashion photograph (artist unknown).
- Paper collage by Duncan Hannah. We almost bought out the entire collection of these collages from the ’70s and ’80s.
- Masking tape piece by Jon Ros.
- Black charcoal drawing (artist unknown, bought at a flea market).
- Art poster. “I love the graphics and color combination.”
Men’s floor stairway (clockwise from left)
- Vintage art poster from the Leo Castelli gallery.
“This is from a great collection of exhibition posters we found that date from the ’70s and ’80s.”
- Collage by Cecil Touchon.
- Photograph by Marc Yankus.
- Vintage Le Corbusier poster, sourced at an antiques show.
- Vintage film poster of “Blow Up,” from the personal collection of Frank Muytjens.
- Black and white pen and ink drawing. “Glenn and I were at the Brimfield Flea Market and he found this incredible collection of sketchbooks from one artist. This is one of them and so is the pen and ink portrait on the left wall.”
- Richard Serra poster from the Leo Castelli gallery.
- Abstract painting (artist unknown).
- Uncut dust jacket covers with drawing of Leo Castelli by Andy Warhol.
- Collage by Duncan Hannah.
- Blue abstract painting (artist unknown).
- Brickwork drawing from an antique store in San Francisco.
- Photographs by Mickey Smith.
(post by Ruth Parsons, Glenn Tuma and Alexandra Andrews, photo credit: Hannah Thomson for J.Crew)
Glenn and I continue our hunt at the flea market in Brimfield, Massachusetts. Today, tons of great artwork was to be found!
Dealers travel estate sales and collect items to bring to this show. We tend toward modern art but also love stumbling across old artists’ portfolios where we can sift through years’ worth of great studies.
(post credit: Ruth Parsons and Glenn Tuma)
Glenn and I are always on the hunt for great one-of-kind vintage finds to decorate the stores. But a big highlight for us is Brimfield the gigantic five-day flea market in Brimfield, Massachusetts, that’s held in May, July and September. Literally thousands of dealers sell everything you can imagine on acres of fields.
We’ve got our walkie-talkies charged up and a truck to fill! Stay tuned as we bring you our favorite picks of each day. Over and out…
1. Three of seven old French shutters we found that might be just right in the showroom for an upcoming design presentation.
2. Manufactured using old steel, the holes cut into the sides of these shelves help lighten them visually. Frank and his team’s designs are the only things these shelves need to be the coolest things ever.
3. A really neat sculpture—the wood form sits perfectly off center.
4. A great mid-century sculpture that will add warmth and interest to a store shelf or upper!
(post credit: Ruth Parsons and Glenn Tuma, photo credit )
Nestled in a display case next to a small assemblage of leather shoelaces from the Clignancourt flea market in Paris, an inconspicuous notebook is open to a page covered in a complex scrawl of cities, countries and arrows. This small page chronicles the nomadic life of the artist Sheila Hicks.
The wonderful world of fiber has been all but exhausted by Hicks as she continues to explore the essence of weaving, painting and sculpture. Hicks is 76 and shows no sign of slowing down, and her most recent works are some of her most ambitious, treading fearlessly into the realm of architectural-scale installations.
The common thread through all her work is an obsession with the weaving, wrapping, twisting, knotting and sewing of fiber. My personal favorites are the intimate weavings known as “minimes,” made on a small loom of her own invention. These works embody the improvisational elements of sketching, or as Hicks puts it, “dancing on the strings of a harp.”
The Institute of Contemporary Art in Philadelphia is celebrating the artist with her first-ever retrospective in the United States, on view through August 7th.
(post by Sam Parker, photo credit: Aaron Igler/GreenHouseMedia & Martignoni)
“I love all of illustrator Happy Menocal’s sketches, but her Matadors series never fails to make me smile. I love their serious faces mixed with those bright neon pink tights. I just got back from a trip to Spain, and these little guys really capture the pride and spirit
of the country!”
(post by Dulci Cuprill)
(post by Tracy Rosenbaum)
Our new crewcuts store had this amazing wallpaper in the vestibule and bathroom left by the previous tenant. The paper design was a simple line drawing of a very New York City downtown street scene. We decided to keep it intact but wanted to alter and embellish it in an interesting way. Artist Rebekah Maysles to the rescue! Rebekah’s beautiful watercolors and drawings of flowers and wild animals took it from subdued to fantastic. Rebekah and her sister Sara also co-designed and co-edited the book Grey Gardens, a companion book to the film of the same name, available here.
Their dad is Albert Maysles, half of the dynamic filmmaker duo The Maylses, who created Grey Gardens and many other excellent documentary films. When Rebekah isn’t making art, she works at the Maysles Institute, a great place to see new independent documentary films.
(post by Ruth Parsons)